Originally published in Science Magazine as an introduction to a special issue, "Grand Challenges in Science Education."
Why should anyone who is not a scientist care about science education? Professional scientists and educators may find the question insulting. Every culture has struggled to find the most effective ways to teach the uninitiated and translate that learning into productive skills. But if students and parents around the world don't see the need for a high-quality education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (the so-called STEM fields), or mistakenly think that they are already receiving satisfactory teaching in those areas, then calls from the scientific community to improve STEM education will fall on deaf ears.
In this special issue of Science, we have invited experts to tell us what they think are the most important challenges facing science education. Through a mixture of News, Reviews, Perspectives, Education Forums, and an Editorial, we explore the obstacles to progress, be they within the classroom, across the school system, or in the larger social arena. We also offer substantive suggestions on how to proceed. For example, distance education, online simulations as educational aids, and social networking tools are already part of science education. Many university faculty members are working to upgrade centuries-old approaches to instruction. And, with a new emphasis on the practice of science, promising assessment tools are being developed to improve learning.
The challenges covered in this special issue will be familiar to those who have devoted their lives and livelihoods to improving education. There is a huge and expanding literature on these topics and many others not covered in these pages. Yet convincing the public of the importance of STEM education will require more than explaining what the research shows or finding ways to scale up best practices to reach the billions of students who are entitled to a high-quality education. For scientists, advances in science and technology arrive at such a rapid clip that last year's knowledge barely scratches the surface of what is needed next year. At the same time, larger and more diverse student populations clamor for access to knowledge. Not only will the scientific workforce for the 21st century need skills and knowledge we haven't even heard of yet, but all global citizens, whether in their doctor's office or in a polling booth, need to be better informed. Turning the fire of the natural curiosity of students into effective, flexible, and well-grounded outcomes will take a concerted effort by many different actors. Among them, scientists must play a central role.
This is another grand challenge, and one that the scientific community ignores at its peril.